Disclaimer: In my sixteen years of vocational ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. The characteristics that I share here do not come from a textbook. Instead, they are drawn from my own real-life experiences.
I recently led a conference for our local Baptist association entitled “Community Engagement”. The purpose of this conference was to introduce church leaders to principles and strategies for reaching their local communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles and strategies that I shared are the same ones that guide our aggressive community ministry at Port Royal Baptist Church. In addition to the fifteen principles, I shared the difference between sending and staying churches. Why mention this? Not every church is ready and willing to reach out and make themselves uncomfortable getting to know and minister to their community. Before any church can get serious about reaching the neighborhoods and communities around them, they must determine if they are willing to pay the price to do so. Over the next few days I will share the nine characteristics of both staying and sending churches. I will begin with the first five of staying churches.
Staying Churches are those churches who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. These churches acknowledge their community but don’t necessarily feel responsible for them.
What does a Staying Church look like?
1. The budget of a Staying Church reflects an inward focus. It has been said that you can look at a person’s friends, calendar, and checkbook and be able to tell where their heart is. The same is true for churches. Churches budget what is important to them. The budget of a staying church reflects a desire, although not spoken, to keep the membership entertained and happy. In staying churches, budgets are heavier in the areas of fellowship and lighter in the areas of missions and evangelism.
2. Staying Churches see the protection and preservation of the “church building” as being more important “building the church”. I believe it is fair to say that the one of the largest expenses churches have is facilities upkeep and maintenance. Because of this large monetary investment, staying churches fiercely guard the church building from anything that might harm or hurt it. An unhealthy attachment to the physical building can certainly hurt the effectiveness of the church’s outreach and missions ministries. An example here is helpful. Think about children for a moment. Children are messy. Children spill things on the carpet. Children write on the wall. In order to prevent all of this from happening, a staying church makes the decision to not reach families with kids because they might “hurt the building”.
3. In Staying Churches, programs have become the “end” rather than a “means to an end.” If you have been involved in a local church for any length of time you have been exposed to all kinds of church programming. I can say that in our Southern Baptist life we have never had a shortage of church programs. Church programming is much live television programming. Cable companies offer shows and programs to satisfy the interest of the viewers in almost every conceivable way (music, fashion, hunting, cooking, sports, news, etc.) Church programming is much the same. We utilize programs to minister to a wide variety of people (children, students, young adults, military, senior adults, etc.) Problems occur when churches see the programs as the end and not a means to an end. Staying churches fiercely defend their programming. The real question is not “Do we need to add another program?” The real question should be “Are the programs we are using helping us fulfill our purpose or do we need to do stop and do something different?” A word of caution. Do you remember how you felt when your favorite television show was cancelled? The same feelings are true in the local church.
4. Staying Churches prefer sending money so that other people may “do ministry” over involving themselves in ministry. This is very common. Throughout the year, most churches take up missions offerings for various causes. Staying churches believe this goes far enough. Why? It’s easy. It’s clean. I had a former church member tell me, “that’s what we pay missionaries for.” It’s one thing to simply throw money at a cause. It’s something altogether different to involve yourself in the lives of others and get your hands dirty. There is one major problem with this practice. The majority of the missions offerings that churches collect are not for their immediate community. Who is reaching them?
5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Not much to stay here. For a church to reach and impact an ever-changing and ever-evolving community, business as usual must go out the window. Staying churches prefer to bask in comfort than to inconvenience themselves for someone else. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty.